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Action needs to heat up on cold calls

Nuisance caller

Today we’re urging Government, regulators and businesses to renew their efforts to call time on nuisance calls and texts as complaints about this everyday menace continue to rack up in the tens of thousands.

Last year I was asked by the Government to chair a taskforce that would find ways to help tackle the problem of nuisance calls. In December we outlined 15 recommendations to introduce tougher rules and more action from businesses, the regulators and the Government. But six months on, much more needs to be done.

Since the taskforce reported, there have been around 61,500 official complaints about nuisance calls and texts, according to figures from the regulator, the Information Commissioner’s Office. But just 2% of people who’ve had these calls report them to the regulator, meaning there are millions more.

The taskforce set out a clear action plan, so it’s disappointing that so many unwanted calls and texts are still being received. People are sick of being bombarded with calls that invade their privacy and waste their time.

Complaints about nuisance calls

We’ve heard stories like Peter’s:

‘My 13 -year-old son got one. When he said he was only 13 they replied “has your dad or mum had an accident?”‘

And Alison’s:

‘When my mother was dying slowly in a care home 40 miles away and I was home caring for my sick husband, I sometimes had a dozen calls a day, any of which might have been the final summons I was dreading.

‘I bought a machine that let me block certain numbers – but these clever crooks changed their numbers with each call.’

The action we want taken to crack down on nuisance calls

We’re calling on the new Government to make senior executives accountable by law for their company’s nuisance calls.

Our new research found that eight in 10 people support greater accountability over nuisance calls, including directors being personally fined if their company continues breaks the rules.

That’s why we want businesses to take action now and support our campaign by making a public commitment to tackle nuisance calls. Already major companies including BT and SSE have publicly pledged their support.

We also want businesses to be required to show their number when they call you.

And we want regulators to give people more power by putting them in control of how their personal data is used. This means making it easier for you to unsubscribe from lists when you’ve accidentally found that you’ve opted in to be contacted. They must also provide some standardised wording for those opt in questions to make it easier for you to understand what it is you’re agreeing to.

We’re making it easier for you to complain about nuisance calls

There are things we can do to make it easier for you, too. We’ve found that a quarter of people don’t know where to complain when they receive an unwanted call, so we’re launching a new online complaints tool.

You can now send your complaint directly to the correct regulator in one simple process.

Nearly 200,000 of you have backed our Calling Time campaign, but now we’re urging you to make sure you report all nuisance calls and texts. This gives regulators the vital evidence they need to take action against companies breaking the rules.

Everyone has a part to play in ensuring that all of us are no longer bombarded on a daily basis with unwanted calls. The Government knows what’s required to tackle nuisance calls, so we need to see more sustained action, with senior executives held to account, to help put an end to this everyday menace.


I find the most effective way to stop cold calls is to swear as rudely as possible at the cold callers. Start off speaking politely and find out who they are. Once they have identified themselves and you’re sure they’re a cold caller, start swearing extremely rudely and tell them never to phone you again. This course of action has three advantages:

1. It encourages them to find another way to earn a living, particularly if everyone swears at them.
2. Cold callers won’t phone you again. My own experience suggests that they might even put you on a “do not call” blacklist used by other cold callers, as it is very effective.
3. It allows you to vent your anger at this distressing practice; it is very satisfying.

Please don’t take pity on cold callers that they’re only doing their job; such an argument doesn’t apply to criminal activity. I’m usually a very polite person and not the type of person who swears at people, but cold callers really deserve this.

I no longer have a landline, and I find that this is the most effective way to stop cold calls, although this isn’t an option for everyone.


“People are sick of being bombarded with calls that invade their privacy and waste their time”. True, but there is also ample evidence from the annals of Which Conversation? that cold calling is causing serious anxiety and distress to many people. Alison’s example quoted in the Intro is typical, and others who are vulnerable, or are caring for vulnerable people, have been driven crazy or have submitted to scams as a result of cold calls.

I applaud all the measures being taken by Which? but a common complaint is that these calls are not coming from honest and responsible companies who will abide by a code of practice; they’re coming from [or on behalf of] sham firms and unscrupulous outfits that have not a shred of moral decency and whose sole purpose is to lie, trick, con and extort so they cynically target those most likely to succumb. This is one of the most shameful and despicable types of anti-social behaviour in this country and there appears to be no effective answer to it. We have to try a wide range of approaches and identifying the perpetrators is the prime task but is exceedingly difficult.

Although it is widely believed that many cold calls have Asian origins, I think we have to face the fact that many calls are in fact made from a UK landline. There are so many desperate people who are tempted by apparently easy money to serve the purposes of the master scammers that they will engage in this activity. I have no sympathy for them but perhaps they do not understand the gravity and offensiveness of what they are doing. A publicity campaign aimed at educating the public at large of the impact of cold calling and, hopefully, stirring the conscience of some of those involved might be a useful approach. This is more than a nuisance, it is a heinous offence and deserves to be addressed with as much vigour as other breaches of the law.


Quote from the 15 recommendations by Which? :
” Our recommendations are designed to help reduce the incidence of unwanted calls and texts received by consumers…”

Sorry Which?, that is just not good enough.

There will be no satisfactory solution until ALL cold calling is made illegal. Reduction is not enough, they need to STOP.

I only get 1 or 2 nuisance calls a week from a human being these days, it used to be several a day. I now get a lot more recorded message nuisance calls mostly from a withheld number that I cannot report. They often say they are calling on behalf of the government or “it is a legal requirement that we inform you…” or “we have been trying to contact you about your claim…”.

I have never had a cold call that I was remotely interested in so why do I only need a reduction in them? Who are the ethical cold callers Which? seems to want to protect?

The other day. I missed a call on my mobile phone that I didn’t recognise. I goggled it and found it with a name and location I didn’t recognise on a website uk-community dot com.

I goggled our mobile phone numbers that are registered with TPS and one is also on this website and the other on another website ukphonebook dot mobi. Our names and locations were wrong on both websites.

Why are websites allowed to list phone numbers? There are other websites that list every conceivable landline number, many that will be registered with TPS. UK phone numbers are also listed on foreign websites. Isn’t there a privacy or data protection law that bans our personal data being broadcast in this way?

Recently, an elderly lady committed suicide because she was being hounded by charities and couldn’t take any more. Anybody seems to be able to call themselves a charity these days and there was a time when I thought my donations would go to a good cause. I now know otherwise and am much more selective to where I donate. But that poor lady is another very good reason why ALL cold calling should be banned.

Yesterday, a very nicely dressed, well spoken lady knocked on the door to ask if I would take part in a survey. I politely said no thank you and do you realise you are in a “no cold calling area”. She said she didn’t know what to do as she was supposed to be exempt but everyone was telling her the same thing. She was probably legit, but looks can be deceiving.

As long as the law permits cold calling on any level, there will always be scammers and hounders preying on the vulnerable.


Hi Alfa

We don’t think outright ban is the right solution to the problem of nuisance calls and texts because some people find telemarketing useful, and not all telemarketing calls are a nuisance or unwanted. A ban would adversely affect those companies that act legally and responsibly when they contact consumers.

But we do want to see companies following the rules on how they use your personal data to contact you. That’s why we’ve made this new tool that now sends complaints direct to the correct regulator. The more evidence they have the more they can take action against those who break the law.

We also think that all marketing calls should have to show a valid number when they contact you so that you can easily report them.

L A Harth says:
16 September 2015

I absolutely disagree!! No one finds telemarketing useful. It is far too dangerous, unpredictable etc etc.

‘Which’ is supposed to be ‘pro consumer’,


Hi Vanessa. I accept that some people want telemarketing calls, but they should have the opportunity to opt-in to receive them. If you ask Which? members or the general public it will be very obvious that most people don’t want them. There is one Conversation where 100% of respondents were opposed to nuisance calls.

I did not appreciate the extent of the problem until I retired and was at home most of the time.


Vanessa, would you give some examples of unsolicited telemarketing calls that you think people would find useful? am not normally against total bans – sometimes a blunt instrument is too crude. But I would like to hear the argument for them.

The “withheld” phone number seems to indicate a company that does not want to be identified and reported. I’m not sure why anyone would legitimately want a number withheld. However this would no doubt affect wothholding numbers on personal calls as well as business calls. Should any numbers be withheld, and why? I’m sure there are good reasons, though I’ve never withheld mine and have not suffered any problems – certainly not of any magnitude.

The problem then is cold calls from overseas – no doubt the offenders would simply route their calls that way. So the problem would persist.